Sudden hearing loss

Sudden hearing loss: what you should know

Diseases, Neurology

Most people, as they get older, slowly lose some hearing. But there is another type of hearing loss that comes on suddenly, or over one or two days. It is called (appropriately) “sudden hearing loss”. It is not very common, but you may know someone who has had it.

Symptoms of sudden hearing loss

Typically a person with sudden hearing loss first notices the problem when they put on earphones, or when they don’t hear well on the phone. In some cases, a person notices it when they wake up and their hearing seems seriously diminished. Sometimes it is accompanied by ringing in the ear, and sometimes with dizziness. Fortunately, in about 99% of cases, it only affects one ear.

Not from wax

This is not the sort of hearing loss than can come from wax plugging up your ear canal. Actually, wax causing hearing loss is not common either, since the ear canal needs to be 100% blocked before a loss is noticed.  And sudden hearing loss is different than the loss you might get during a cold or sinus infection, which causes a blockage in the middle ear.

Sudden hearing loss is a “sensorineural” type of loss, meaning the problem is in the inner ear, or in the nerve that connects the inner ear with the brain. The hearing loss ranges from about 30% to almost a complete loss.

Causes of sudden hearing loss

Perhaps surprisingly, doctors cannot be certain of the cause in most cases. The problem is deep in the inner ear, which is a difficult area to study. Research points to a virus as the cause in most cases. In other cases, the cause might be a blockage to a blood vessel in the inner ear, or a rupture of a membrane in the inner ear. Rarely, a (benign) tumor on the inner ear nerve is the cause. Other rare causes include untreated syphilis or an autoimmune disease.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you notice a sudden hearing loss, you should do your best to see a specialist—an otolaryngologist—as soon as possible. They will look at your ear (which usually looks normal), and the only way to diagnose the problem is a hearing test. The treatment is controversial. Most specialists will treat with corticosteroids by mouth or by injection. However, it is questionable if steroids really help.

Fortunately, most people will get better whether or not they are treated with steroids. If steroids are used and a person gets better, both the doctor and the patient might think “the steroids cured me”. In fact, it could be the steroids helped, or it could be that the person would have gotten better without any treatment.

Do people improve?

It is thought that a majority of people actually recover spontaneously, within a week of the onset of the hearing loss, even before they see a doctor. Of those who see a doctor, probably 2 out of 3 will recover at least a part of their hearing. Many people recover completely, and those who do not should some blood tests and a brain MRI scan to make sure there is no underlying nerve tumor. Again, the best thing to do if you notice a sudden hearing loss is see an otolaryngologist for diagnosis and treatment as soon as you can.

To find a doctor, of any specialty, anywhere in Brazil, check out our website:

See also in ProcuraMed:

Gym noise may be harming your hearing. What you can do.

The truth about earwax

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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